Matter of fact

Cesare PastorinoI am an intellectual and cultural historian of early modern science, on Habilitation track at the Institute of Philosophy & History of Literature, Science & Technology of Technische Universität, Berlin.

My work focuses on the origins and development of empiricism. I am especially interested in practical knowledge and the history of experimentation (broadly conceived). I look at fields like natural philosophy, instrument making and material culture, and antiquarianism. I am also a specialist on the philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon. I am currently the holder of a 3-year project grant, “The Weight of Things. Quantification of Matter and the Exchange of Technical and Learned Knowledge in Early Modern Europe,” financed by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

I am originally from Italy. There, I studied Greek and Latin, history and philosophy and got a B.Sc. in Physics. I also studied in England and the United States (Lancaster University, Imperial College, and Indiana University) and completed a Ph.D. in history and philosophy of science at Indiana University (2011), with a dissertation on Francis Bacon, experiment, and early Stuart culture, which I am currently turning into a monograph.

Afterward, I was a fellow at the Science History Institute in Philadelphia, a postdoctoral fellow at the Berlin Center for the History of Knowledge and a senior research fellow at the Vossius Center for History of Humanities and Sciences (University of Amsterdam). I also worked for several years in two leading digital history projects: The Chymistry of Isaac Newton and The Newton Project.

Upcoming talks:

1-2 April 2019. The Features of Early Modern English Antiquarian Metrology. Workshop: Antiquarian ‘Science’ in the Scholarly Society. Society of Antiquaries of London.

10-11 May 2019. The early modern investigation of ancient measures: a comparative approach. Workshop: Beyond Ancients and Moderns. Comparative approaches to the reception of the classical tradition in early modern Europe, c. 1600–1750. All Souls, Oxford.

Recent articles:

The Philosopher and the Craftsman. Francis Bacon’s Notion of Experiment and its Debt to Early Stuart Inventors.” Isis. A journal of the History of Science Society, 108, no. 4 (December 2017): 749-768.  https://doi.org/10.1086/695538 (currently open access, checked on December 7th, 2018).

Alchemy and the Electric Spirit in Isaac Newton’s General Scholium. in S. Ducheyne, S. Mandelbrote and S. Snobelen (eds.), Newton’s General Scholium After 300 Years (forthcoming, 2019)

The Baconian Natural and Experimental Histories as an Epistemic Genre.” Submitted Draft.

abstract: In 1622, Francis Bacon published his Historia naturalis et experimentalis. Many of the features of Bacon’s natural and experimental histories were entirely new. This paper studies this literary form as a new epistemic genre. In particular, it analyzes its origin and evolution in Bacon’s work, focusing on how its basic template and features were influenced by Bacon’s specific epistemic requirements. It shows that Bacon devised these features in the process of developing a Historia mechanica, or a history of the mechanical arts, drawing on the particular case of the technical recipe. From antiquity, the recipe had been the dominant epistemic genre for recording and communicating technical knowledge.  However, this paper suggests that the recipe format did not meet Francis Bacon’s epistemic necessities. In particular, this format was incompatible with the goal of keeping experimentation and its reporting open-ended and flexible. More generally, the acknowledgment of the provisional, historical character of knowledge was a tenet of what Bacon called an ‘initiative’ method of knowledge transmission or a method of ‘probation.’ According to this approach, knowledge ‘ought to be delivered and intimated, if it were possible, in the same method wherein it was invented’ and discovered.  Only the display of its tentative features would encourage and stimulate others to improve and advance it. The format of the new genre of natural and experimental histories grew out of Bacon’s dissatisfaction with the way in which recipes hid the imperfection of the process of knowledge production.